Over the past few months, we’ve seen a number of films come out looking at the state of the modern media. From comedies like Anchorman 2, to action films like The Hunger Games, to thrillers like Gone Girl, there’s been this prevailing sense of how the media exploits certain stories and relies more on shock than facts. No film has made this more prominent though than Nightcrawler, probably the best thriller that’s been released this year, and I’m including Gone Girl.
The plot concerns Lou Bloom, an unemployed individual who one night stumbles upon the world of nightcrawlers, film crews that go around filming the aftermath of things like car crashes and home invasions in order to sell their footage to news stations. Inspired, Bloom gets a camera and a police scanner to join in, hiring Rick, a homeless man desperate for money, to assist him. As Lou gets more involved in the industry, his already low ethical standards decrease even further, showing how this type of news corrupts people. The main element of the plot that makes it work is its look at journalism, partly through Lou, who I’ll talk about later, and through the newsroom operators. As the film goes on, we see how the facts behind a story are less important than the perception of a story, leading to facts being left out and showing how the news does little to inform us. Whilst all this is going on, we feel sickened by the footage Lou captures, but then there is the central paradox of the media, we are sickened by the footage but the nightcrawlers wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a market for their stories. We also see the economic problems that are going on at the time which led to Lou turning to more unethical measures to make money, along with showing how Rick kept going along with what Lou was doing just for the hope of money. We also see how people are exploited in order for people to make more money, as shown by Lou initially not wanting to pay Rick, thinking that the experience would be payment enough, similar to how a lot of companies use unpaid internships.
The characters and the performances though are what give the film its power, the most notable being Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou. Throughout the film, he tries to present himself as this strong minded businessman, even spouting lines that you hear from your average candidate on The Apprentice, but he is a complete sociopath, showing absolutely no ethical standards, willing to break into houses and modify crime scenes in order to get the best angle for his footage. It’s an incredibly creepy performance and Gyllenhaal pulls it off perfectly, making Bloom one of the most terrifying characters of the year. There’s also the issue of Gyllenhaal’s weight loss for the part, making Lou incredibly gaunt, ghoulish even, which adds to the creepy vibe of the character. There’s also a great performance from Riz Ahmed (by the way it’s great to see him getting more attention) as Rick, showing how far people are willing to go for money and showing just how easily Lou is able to influence people to do what he wants. There’s also an over-the-top performance by Bill Paxton (is there any other kind of Bill Paxton performance) as Lou’s main competitor, showing how, even if Lou didn’t exist, there is still a market for his videos, along with showing the lengths Lou will go to in order to stay one step ahead. Finally there’s Rene Russo as Nina, the newsroom operator who Lou sells his footage to. She shows the morbid fascination that we all have for the footage Lou captures and how stories are manipulated. She also shows how Lou can manipulate even the strongest willed person to do his bidding, aided by her and Gyllenhaal having great chemistry with each other.
Overall, Nightcrawler is an incredibly effective thriller. The script provides a really harsh critique of modern society and the incredible performance by Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou makes this one of the most effective thrillers of the year.
My Rating: 5/5